Saturday, March 7, 2015

Breaking News: U.S. millennials post ‘abysmal’ scores in tech skills test, lag behind foreign peers. From WashPo.

There was this test. And it was daunting. It was like the SAT or ACT -- which many American millennials are no doubt familiar with, as they are on track to be the best educated generation in history -- except this test was not about getting into college.

This exam, given in 23 countries, assessed the thinking abilities and workplace skills of adults. It focused on literacy, math and technological problem-solving. The goal was to figure out how prepared people are to work in a complex, modern society.

And U.S. millennials performed horribly.



  1. I KNEW IT!!!!! It's nothing new. Wasn't the Commodore 64 advertised by showing a supposed employer interviewing a kid by saying, "You've zapped eleventy zillion aliens from the planet, ahem, Mongo, but what do you know about computers?" If anything, things have become much worse since then. They do spend huge amounts of time glued to their electronics, but it doesn't mean they're tech-savvy in any way. Indeed, they are not, PRECISELY because they spend so much time with these distractions.

    I also just know we won't have to wait long until some ed-school denizen claims this is all entirely because there's something wrong with the test...

  2. For all that there are problems in education, this study this particular study doesn't seem like it's worth setting my hair on fire over. The US is running about ten points behind the Average on literacy and problem solving, and about 20 points behind on numeracy. These are out of 500.

    Below average to be sure, but doesn't seem to be a huge lag. The range (10th-90th percentile) is from about 180-323 in the US, and 210-335 for the OECD average. Theres no doubt something to be learned about education from Japan and Finland, but 'abysmal' is a bit of a stretch. It probably doesn't justify castigating a whole generation. Or the entire education profession either.

    I'm worried more that so many of the questions were painfully easy (until I biffed the last math one myself. In my defense, I just glanced at it and fell for exactly the trap the advert wanted to set).

    And besides - when the Washington Post wants to complain that schools aren't training people for the workforce, that's a sure sign that it's just another day here on planet earth.

  3. Like others above, I'm just a bit skeptical, and inclined to consider the source (I don't think ETS has quite as large an economic stake in curriculum-creation as, say, Pearson, but they do certainly have a stake in claiming a need for more and better tests -- diagnostic, summative, and everywhere in between). I'm also, as I think I've said before in the last week, not fond of extreme statements in supposedly-academic discourse (while "horribly" is the columnist's word; "abysmal" apparently comes from the report itself).

    Mind you, if my present job every goes poof, one of the first things I would look into is an internship at ETS. I'm good at taking standardized tests, and (as I know from freelance work), I'm also pretty good at writing them. I'd feel a bit like I was going over to the dark side, but I also know that's where the money is in education these days (heaven knows it's not in classroom teaching). Either that or "consulting," and, although one of the big consultants has offices just down the street from my apartment, I just can't see myself claiming, with a straight face (or an even semi-clear conscience) that my presence at a higher ed institution that might have spent the same money it spent on my "expertise" on teacher salaries is actually helping. Also, I haven't got an Ed.D., and that might be a handicap.

    I guess it's a good thing I'm pseudonymous here. I can rail against the testing-industrial complex right up until the moment I decide to allow myself to be absorbed into it.

  4. I had many of the same thoughts as R and/or G. The U.S. results are not much lower than the mean, and are well above the "failure" cutoff, if that's what the horizontal line at 200 means. And the questions are disturbingly easy, though I made the same math mistake.

    It's a Henny Penny article.

  5. I'm not surprised at this.

    When I was a young boy, I would take things apart out of sheer curiosity. You name it, chances are I've disassembled it: radios, motors, watches, just about anything simply to see what was inside and, maybe, figure out how it worked. Doing so required the use of hand tools, which I borrowed from my father, a journeyman tradesman.

    Later, in high school, I took up shortwave listening, partly because I didn't think I had what it took to become a ham. I learned a lot about radio, antennas, and signal propagation by doing that. And, yes, I sometimes did my own tinkering for that.

    Nowadays, I still do that. People in my building abandon all sorts of things ranging from computer keyboards to vacuum cleaners. I've often taken some of that stuff up to my apartment, disassembled and cleaned it, and, often, got it running again. What doesn't work frequently ends up in my junk box because I might use some of the parts for something else.

    But, sadly, many millennials can't do that. I've noticed a distinct lack of curiosity about what makes things tick, but I'm not surprised at that. More than 20 years ago, while I was working on my second master's degree, I saw electrical engineering students trying to wire their test boards but who had no idea how to use a wire stripper.

    This is what one gets by insisting that as many high school students as possible should go to university. Apprenticing for a trade has, in recent times, come to be frowned upon, as if having a blue collar job is a sign of failure. (Oh, yeah? How come a journeyman tradesman can make more money than I ever could with a Ph. D.?)